Fighting fire and fighting diabetes!

 By Chief Sam DiGiovanna

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Why is it important to bring awareness to a condition that affects 30 million people in the U.S. alone? Because one out of four people with diabetes don't know they have it.

Listen to your heart! Why your heart is at risk? Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause plaque to build up in your blood vessels. This increases your risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease.

Heart disease, narrowing or blockage of the arteries, and/or a history of cardiovascular (CV) events like a heart attack or stroke are all forms of cardiovascular (CV) disease.

Yes, even many firefighters are diabetic or borderline diabetic and don't realize it. Yet another reason to get your annual physical.

If you're diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, there is so much you can do to improve your chances of living a long, healthy life. Consider these tips:

  • Just say "Om!" Just as stress can raise blood pressure, it can raise blood sugar levels. Learning to meditate can reduce stress, improve self-discipline, and help you react mindfully rather than emotionally. Meditation has been shown to have positive effects for those with diabetes.
  • Get off the recliner. Regular exercise helps keep your weight and blood sugar under control. You don't have to train for a marathon or join CrossFit but strive for exercise that gets your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes. If you're not in good physical shape, you're not ready for the next call.
  • Trade up! Swap saturated fats and refined sugar for healthy fats in nuts and sweet whole fruit.
  • Show your true colors. Healthy, whole food is colorful food. If you look at your plate and see a lot of brown and white, you're not doing things right. Instead, go for green (spinach, broccoli), yellow and orange (squash, sweet potatoes, carrots) and red (tomatoes, peppers).
  • Ask the experts. Eating a balanced diet, with lots of fruits, vegetables and low-fat protein, is important for all of us. And if you have diabetes, you should take it a step further and establish a food plan. If you don't have one, ask your doctor about seeing a dietitian who specializes in diabetes.
  • Prepare for take-off! Travel adds to stress and can make the body react differently to food and medicine. While you can't prevent all travel-related effects, a little forethought can help. Be sure to pack extra medications, consider how time zone changes will affect your doses and carry a list of medications you're taking.
  • Drop and give me 10 — or more! If you're overweight, set a goal to drop 10 percent of your body weight through changes in your diet and exercise. Being overweight not only increases your chance of developing diabetes, but it’s also linked to a host of diseases and medical conditions.
  • Protect your eyes. Diabetics can suffer from eye problems, including vision loss. Get a full eye exam at least once a year.
  • Stand up for yourself! Diabetes can produce circulatory issues that can prevent you from feeling foot injuries. Check both feet daily for blisters, cuts, or sores so you can proactively address any issues.

Diabetes doesn't have to keep you from the profession you love. But it does mean you'll need to do a little more self-care. Fight diabetes so you can continue to fight fire!

Sam DiGiovanna is a 40-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services